September 28, 2012

It's All About Roasted Veggies

I love roasted veggies!  They are super easy to make, and they are great on their own or as an ingredient in another dish.

They also meet all five of my requirements for a great weekday meal:  (1) healthy; (2) doesn't taste healthy; (3) very little hands-on time; (4) my husband's not afraid to make it or I can make it ahead of time; and (5) I can have it on the table within 15 minutes of getting home (even if my husband didn't help).  I usually make them once or twice a month on a Sunday.  That way I can play with my son while the vegetables cook in the oven.  When they are done, I pack them away and warm them up for dinner another night. 

I am a big fan of zucchini and potatoes because the leftovers taste great in a frittata, but I try to mix it up.

Regardless of the combo of vegetables, I follow a simple formula:
  1. Preheat Oven to 425 Degrees Fahrenheit
  2. Cut/Prep vegetables
  3. Toss vegetables in a little olive oil and salt
  4. Roast for 30 to 60 minutes. 
The exact cooking time depends on the vegetables involved. 

Leftover Magic:
  • Make a frittata using leftover roasted zucchini and potatoes
  • Add leftover veggies to pasta
  • Toss leftover veggies, with avocado, romaine lettuce, and a balsamic vinaigrette for a quick salad
  • Add your favorite homemade (or jar of) tomato sauce to leftover veggies (I do this often with zucchini or a zucchini/corn mixture).
  • Puree leftover veggies to make Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Vegetable Soup (and freeze extra).

Roasted Salmon Nicoise

(based on Barefoot Contessa's Roasted Salmon Nicoise Platter)

This recipe is a regular on my dinner menu rotation during the spring and summer.  It is also a dish worthy of company.  When I want to be fancy I put it on an actual platter, so that everyone can pick and choose what they want on their plates.  But if I'm just making a meal for my family, because I know what they will and will not eat from the plate, I will assemble the "platter" on each person's dinner plate.  

Salad Ingredients:

  • 1/2 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 4 fresh salmon fillets
  • 1/2 pound small Yukon gold potatoes
  • 1/2 pound frozen haricots verts
  • 2 tomatoes, cut into wedges (optional)
  • 3 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and cut in quarters (Trader Joe's sells premade ones!)
  • 1 bunch spinach or butter lettuce
  • 8-10 green Spanish olives, pitted

Dressing Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp orange muscat champagne vinegar (from Trader Joe's)
  • ½ tsp Dijon mustard
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp cup good olive oil


1.    Preheat the oven to 500 Degrees Fahrenheit.
2.    Make the Marinade - In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, mustard, garlic, salt and pepper.
3.    Place the salmon on a sheet pan that has been covered in aluminum foil, and drizzle the marinade over the salmon.  Let it marinade for 15 minutes. 
4.    Place the potatoes in a large pot of salted water.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 25-35 minutes, until the potatoes are fork tender.  When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them in quarters and set aside.
5.    Place the salmon in the oven and cook for 12 to 15 minutes, or until it is almost cooked through.  Remove to a plate and allow it to rest for 15 minutes.  Break into large pieces and remove any skin.
6.    Follow directions on package of frozen haircots verts to defrost. 
7.     Make the vinaigrette:  In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper, then slowly whisk in the olive oil.
8.    Arrange the salmon and olives on the platter (or if serving directly on dinner plates, divide among the plates).
9.    In a large bowl toss the green beans with a little bit of the vinaigrette, and then place the green beans on the platter (or plates).  
10. In the same bowl toss the potatoes with a little bit of the vinaigrette.  Place the tossed potatoes on the platter (or plates).
11. In the same bowl, continue to toss each main ingredient separately (eggs, spinach or lettuce, tomatoes if using) with a little bit of the vinaigrette.  Place each ingredient on the platter (or plates) after tossing.

Leftover Magic:
I usually make this dish on a Sunday so that I can enjoy making it without feeling rushed.  I figure that if I am already taking the time to cook the green beans, hard boiled eggs, and potatoes, etc., I might as well make a little extra.  Here is how to work leftover magic: 
  • Make Green Beans and Tomatoes with the leftover green beans and tomatoes (just cook the extra green beans with chopped Roma tomatoes (and salt, to taste) in a saucepan on the stove top and stir occasionally until the juices from the tomatoes are reduced.  I do this the same night I make the Nicoise salad (usually while we are eating the salad for dinner) so that I can just warm this up during the week for an easy weekday meal).
  • Make Healthy-ish Mashed Potatoes with the leftover potatoes.
  • Add leftover potatoes to Roasted Vegetable Frittata. 
  • Add leftover hard boiled eggs to salads for lunch or dinner throughout the week.

It's All About Israeli Couscous

I love Israeli couscous.  Because I am always short on time, I typically cook a large batch of it on a Sunday.  Then I give it quick makeovers throughout the week (for lunch and dinner) - to try to squeeze at least three different meals from it.  Here are some of my favorite ways to dress up this grain:
  1. Applies and Dried Cherries
  2. Zucchini Onion Mixture
  3. Roasted Zucchini (just mix leftover roasted zucchini into couscous, warm, and serve)
  4. Sauteed Pepper (just like the Zucchini Onion Mixture, except you saute diced peppers and onion in a pan instead of zucchini and onion). 
  5. Lentils (just mix cooked lentils into the couscous, warm, and serve)
  6. Plain
  7. Greek (Zucchini Onion Mixture and Feta Cheese, and sometimes I add kalamata olives).

September 23, 2012

Rosh Hashana - Part Two: The Food

If I've learned one thing since becoming a mom, it's that when you entertain, you should keep things simple.  So when it came time to planning the menu for our Rosh Hashana dinner, I stuck with dishes that were really good, but also really easy to make.  I also used my chafing dishes to keep the warm dishes warm so that I didn't have to wait to the last minute to put everything out (and I didn't have to keep reheating the dishes before guests went back for seconds and thirds).

The Dinner Menu:
  • Gefilte Fish
  •   Israeli Salad
  •  Butter Lettuce Salad with Beets and Corn
  •  Round Challahs
  •  Green Beans with Tomatoes
  •  Israeli Cous Cous with Lentils
  • Sweet Potato Apple Bake  

  • Brisket

The Dessert Table 
A Rosh Hashana dinner is full of sweet symbols for a sweet new year.  So I figured it was appropriate to have a sweet table, full of sweet things.

  • Cheesecake Stuffed Strawberries (I doubled the recipe that I found here).  These were a huge hit, and so simple to make.  The only thing I would do different next time, is that I used a ziplock bag with the corner cut off to fill the strawberries and it was really messy.  Next time, I would use a real piping bag or a spoon.

  • Chocolate Lacies (store purchased)
  • Meringue Cookies (store purchased)
  •  Grapes

  • Chocolate Moose
  • Chocolate Covered Strawberries
  • Apple Cake with Vanilla Ice Cream
  • Apple Pie Pops (from a recipe I found here - I used frozen Pillsbury pie crust and they came out great). 

September 22, 2012

Rosh Hashana - Part One: The Tablescape

One of my favorite parts of planning for a holiday, is figuring out the tablescape.  This year, I wanted something elegant and simple, so I stuck with silver, white, and green.

I found really inexpensive silver satin tablecloths (here), and I made simple centerpieces out of white hydrangeas and roses with some green accent flowers.  I had planned on using green orchids, but couldn't find them.  The smaller filler flowers worked just fine.

For the seating cards, I found small apples at Michael's and I cut out little leaves with everyone's name on them.  I punched a hole in each leaf and hung it on an apple.  (I am a big fan of seating cards for a formal holiday dinner - I don't have to deal with everyone asking me where to sit while I'm trying to get the food ready, and I can also arrange the seating in a way that ensures good conversations around the entire table).


April 7, 2012

Chugga-Chugga, Choo-Choo, My Baby Boy is Two!

My baby boy is 2!  His birthday fell on a weekend this year, so I figured what better way to celebrate his actual birthday then to spend the day with family and friends in a supped-up play date.  If I was going to create a special day for my son, it had to be full of things he loved - and my son loves trains!  He gets so excited for choo-choo trains, and I couldn't wait for him to see what I had planned for his birthday! 

(Although I discovered Pinterest while I was already well into my planning process, I did have a chance to create a Choo-Choo Trains board (here) for inspiration for the party).

The Menu

We served a brunch buffet that was both adult and kid friendly.  (and I got to break out the chaffing dishes I bought for New Years for the warm items). 
Fruit Salad Bar

I also made a "snack train" for the kids.  I saw so many cute ones when I was looking online for ideas, but I couldn't figure out how to make one without spending a fortune.  I tried the dollar stores, but none of the baskets were the right colors or shapes.  Luckily, I stumbled upon red and white containers from Michaels that were only $4 a piece.   

For the wheels, I cut out circles out of scrapbook paper using a round paper punch, and I used buttons from the Cute As a Button Baby Shower from last year.  I placed each container on two wooden blocks (that my son already owned) in order to raise the containers.  I used glue dots to stick the wheels on, so that they could be easily taken off after the party (so I could reuse the containers).  

I had issues finding the head train for the snack train.  All the trains I saw online and in the stores were either too small or way too expensive.  Finally, I decided to go a different route, and I found this Thomas the Train stuffed toy on Amazon.  It was the perfect size, and because my son loves trains and stuffed animals - it was a great toy for my son (after it finished serving as decoration for the party).  It did disappear a couple of times during the party (apparently that is the bad part about choosing something practical for the decor), but we did manage to locate it in the end, and it is now in my son's playroom (and one of his favorite toys).

I filled the snack train with my son's favorite snacks:

  • Freeze dried bananas (from Trader Joe's)
  • Freeze dried mango (from Trader Joe's)
  • Goldfish
  • Puffs
  • Yogurt Melts
The Drinks

We had plenty of OJ, water, soda cans, juice boxes, and milk boxes for our guests.  I also served coffee and tea.  I found these adorable paper straws online and couldn't resist.  I also got these toddler cups with lids, which were a big hit with the toddler crowd.

The Decor 

I decided on red,white, and blue because I really liked the Thomas the Train colors, and I also figured that I could reuse a lot of the decor for our 4th of July party.  Most of the color came from balloons scattered around the party.  I also bought red and royal blue linens (for less than the rental cost).  

I really wanted to make a runner out of train tracks.  I found inexpensive white table runners, and I made train tracks out of blue ribbon.  I used glue dots to stick the tracks to the runners so that I could peel off the tracks and reuse the runners.  I found Thomas the Train Easter baskets at Target and picked up a couple.  I filled each with napkins (so that guests didn't have to get up when they needed an extra one - which happens a lot when you have kids), and set one at the center of each of the train track runners. 

I bought a bunch of different wooden trains in the party colors, and sprinkled them around the buffet and drinks table.  These too now live in my son's playroom.

I found a wooden arrow at Michaels and I spray painted it with chalkboard paint.  I then wrote in chalk "To the Trains" and I hung the sign on our front gate, so that guests knew to come in through the front door.  I plan to use the arrow sign again for other parties to let guests know which way to enter, so I love that I can change the words on the sign to match my party.

I also made a happy birthday sign in the shape of a railroad crossing sign.  I cut foam core into long strips and bought black stickers for the letters.  I couldn't cut the foam core perfectly, so I glued black ribbon (which was leftover from making programs for my best friend's wedding) to the edges to cover the messiness of it all. 


I rented this amazing toddler train station bounce house.  It was perfect for our toddler guests (and their big siblings).  It was low to the ground so it didn't have too high of a bounce.  It also had an obstacle course and slides.  The kids all loved it!  (and the parents loved that there was easy visibility all around the bounce house so they didn't have to go inside of the bounce house to watch their kids).  The very best part, though, was that we had the bounce house all day.  After our guests were long gone (and after my son took a nice long nap), the party continued for us as the weather turned perfect and my son mastered the bounce house obstacle courses and slides.

I also set up a train table in front of the bounce house.  (It was part of my son's birthday present).  After much debate, I settled on this train table because it fit any brand of trains, and it also worked with cars and other small vehicles (in case my son grows out of the train phase quickly).  Best part was that it has a cover so it can also be used as a regular table too.  It was a huge hit at the party, and it continues to be a huge hit in my son's playroom. 

Finally, I laid out blankets across our yard and spread out my son's toys.  I also set up an indoor play space (in my son's playroom) for guests who didn't want to be outside.  Most of the toys were gifts my son received from his first birthday party, and it was fun for our friends to see my son and all of his friends enjoy playing with the toys.


My son won a free mini photo shoot last year with a photographer.  She did a great job, and I was amazed by the shots she got of my son (especially considering that he spent most of the time running away from her).  She mentioned that she does a lot of birthday parties and smaller events.  She charged a flat rate for two hours (which frankly was less than what a lot of photographers charge for a family photo shoot), and that included all of the pictures - for no added cost.  I thought back to how I spent a majority of my son's first birthday party taking pictures.  I couldn't help but think how nice would it be to have a photographer capture the moments, while I was busy enjoying them?  But I also couldn't help but worry that it was excessive or over-the-top to hire a photographer for a kid's birthday.

I went back and forth for some time about whether it was worth it.  In the end, I decided that for less than the cost of doing a family photo shoot, I could have professional pictures of my son and family and friends on a very special day.  Let me tell you - it was worth it!  We have amazing pictures of our family and friends, and I am even planning on using one of the group shots she took for the thank you card.  The best part was that the photographer fit right in.  She was not intrusive at all.  I'm sure some guests thought it was excessive to hire a photographer, but they haven't seen the pictures she took yet :)

The Cupcakes

Because I don't like to spend the whole party cutting cake, I'm a big fan of cupcakes.  My brother's girlfriend loves to bake, and she was kind enough to make these for the party.  She decided to make a two in the middle of the cupcakes.  Here are some pictures of her masterpiece: 

The Favors

I really struggled this year with the favors.  I am not a huge fan of favors.  I find they are often a really big waste of money.  I wanted something that would be useful and cost efficient.  Finally, I decided on a CD of my son's favorite songs.  My son really loves music, and we get so much joy out of hearing him sing along to his CDs in our car.  My husband and I worked together to come up with the playlist.  We then played it for our son, and made adjustments based on his reactions.  We really had a great time putting it together (please excuse the censored CD - it's for privacy reasons - not aesthetics).  I planned to make a baggage claim sign for the favor table, but ran out of time.

We also did a candy table for the adults (and some of the older kids).  I got candy to match the colors of the party, and I used jars I already had to set up the table.  I ran out of time to make the signs for the candy bar, but one of my friends came up with the great idea of cutting out the labels on the candies that weren't in wrappers and affixing the labels to the jar.  It was such a great idea.  Here is an in-progress shot of her handiwork: